Saturday was certainly very disappointing. The only positive was that it was over so early so there was no need for reflecting on what could have been.
I am taking a more look forward approach. With regards to next year I hope we take the loss and use it as an absolute catalyst to improve everything about the club. Sydney along with Hawthorn and Geelong have set the benchmark over the last 10-12 years and we must strive to achieve and beat their results.
How to improve
• Build further on the culture – we are coming from a long way back given the issues encountered. By getting this right winning should become non-negotiable and we should start to attract the right players who improve us as club and as a team
• Increase our midfield depth – this was absolutely apparent against the Swans. I think we lack the cattle in two ways – just not enough quality and secondly the defensive mindset/mechanisms just aren’t there. We get flogged at clearances too often despite our ruckman winning or at least breaking even with hitouts most weeks. We are building a solid core but need a few more. Zac, Heppell , Parishand Zaha is a good start. Push McGrath in there who should also help with defensive side of things and find another kid. If we can snag a mid in the trade period it would be great. I would be going all in for Rockliff given he doesn’t cost us players or picks. After this we then need a couple of our current list to step up – from Langford, Mutch etc or one of our forwards like Fanta or Begley.
• Coaching structure – I think we need to freshen up with some younger talent. James Kelly seems like a good fit, but there is the difficulty in going from player to coach with the same guys. Also I would love to get a strategic guy in there to really help with our match day moves. On many occasions it seemed like we just went with Plan A. There might be reasons for this – like Whoosa trying to demonstrate what is needed, but from next year this shouldn’t be happening. Someone with a defensive focus – particularly around stoppages would be great. If we didn’t practice our kick ins as I’ve heard somewhere that is just dumb and it cost us the Sydney game.
• Get development right – if the likes of Langford, Laverde and Francis are not best 22 next year then something is going on. Clearly identifying talent is one thing but converting that into proven AFL performances is another. Top 20 picks need to be a given as making it, yet all 3 of these have question marks at the moment. Morgan and Redman are two others that need to come through, along with Ridley and Mutch. I also hold high hopes for Draper at the moment, but is still a few years off.
• Ensure our injury list this year wasn’t a one off. Until the last month of the season we had a great record. This must continue to happen.
• Work out our backline key position players – can we afford to play Hurls as an attacking defender given his size? I think we can, also I actually don’t think he did well when one on one this season, clearly showed on Saturday. Playing Hartley and Ambrose together looks difficult given they both don’t offer heaps the other way. Hartley seems to be a bit confused about his role at times and need to be instructed clearly what his role is, ie don’t let Buddy take a mark inside 50 (I would have moved him onto Buddy once he got the corkie as Ambrose was always going to be too short playing deep) rather than confusing his defensive mindset by emphasising the importance of attacking.
• Re-sign Conor McKenna – his speed and run through the lines is unique and he must hold onto him. He is our only real line breaker. Yes he still makes mistakes but he has hardly played the game and improved out of sight this season.
Retire – Watson, Kelly, Stanton
o Eades – gone
o J Merrett – never looked like getting a game this year, only a two year deal kept him going this year
o Howlett – not the future
o Hocking – again not the future
o McKernan - if another decent ruckman can be found – too good for VFL but not good enough against the gun AFL ruckman. Can’t play as an AFL forward
o Bird - if we aren’t going to play him no need to keep him
o Luenberger - if two decent ruckman can be found – just offers nothing around the ground
o Morgan - unless they believe his injuries have held him back
o Long - given he was never close to getting a go this year can they justify another season
o Dea – was shown to be nothing more than backup this year. Not big enough as a KP player and overtaken by Gleeson
• Inside beast to help with clearances
• Defensive mid who can attack – potentially McGrath’s role.
• Reduce Goddard’s role. Personally I would be happy to see him replace James Kelly down back for a year or two, supporting Gleeson as the intercept marker.
• Work to bring Draper on sooner given Bellchambers and Leunberger aren’t the answer as ruckman
• Need to replace Bags down back. McGrath helped this year but it is not a long term solution given we will need him in the middle. Not sure if McNiece is the man or if it is someone else.
Free Agency/Trade Period
• Throw our first rounder at Josh Kelly and a sweetener. If he decides to leave he will name his club so if it is us we just need to get the deal done.
• Attack free agency. Not much value left other than Rockliff and Trengrove from Port who could play a role in the ruck or down back
• Shop around Myers and Coyler to see if there is any interest. You would keep them for now given their age, but there are big question marks on them.
• Use Francis, Redman and any other unproven players as bait to get trades done. Unlikely to occur and if it did it is something which could bite us in the future. But we shouldn’t be afraid of this.
• Only chase Stringer if you are confident that there is a spot for him. At the moment I would prefer to invest otherwise including via the draft as I think our forward line was our most stable and best performed line this year.
• Assuming we hold onto a first rounder – best available mid. No 3rd forward or half back flanker type who may become a midfielder. They must be an out and out mid
• More mids with other picks
• Late/rookie pick on state league/delisted ruckman
• Potentially chase another KP player late – most likely a back
There were plenty of positives for the season and I am actually bullish but these are my thoughts on how to move forward.